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Radio with roots: In Benson, the more things change on air, the more they stay the same

Justin Klinghagen, left, and John Jennings are the new owners of Benson-based KSCR-FM 93.5/KBMO-AM 1290 Radio. They launched a new format on KSCR FM last week with the completion of a lengthy licensing process. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

BENSON — The proverbial saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same’’ could also be the business mantra in Benson, where radio station KSCR-FM/KBMO-AM is under new ownership.

Justin Klinghagen and John Jennings, owners of KKLN 94.1 The Loon in Willmar, are the newly licensed owners bringing the change to KSCR, or Swift County Radio.

Last week, the Benson station’s new owners launched a new format on the flagship station KSCR 93.5 FM. They replaced a satellite-fed classic rock venue with local, on-air personalities playing a variety of music, handpicked from the station’s own music library. It now broadcasts a variety of classic and modern country, rock, oldies and popular tunes.

Weekends will feature an even bigger mix of programming, everything from a ’50s rock show and old-time radio hour to full version re-runs of the Casey Kasem Top 40 from the ’70s and ’80s.  

They have also remodeled the station’s downtown offices, and installed the latest technology to give the 25,000-watt FM station a very clear voice that reaches well beyond the borders of Swift County, along with streaming capacity to reach the world via the web.

The “same” matters as much as the changes.

Although there is a trend in radio today for sister stations to be operated remotely, Klinghagen and Jennings made it known that they intend to continue operating KSCR/KBMO as a local station.

They have kept the Benson office open and staffed by four local employees, most of them from prior to the ownership transfer.  

Doing business as Headwaters Media LLC, they have arranged financing for this venture through First Security Bank in Benson and the Benson and Swift County economic development agencies.

The station will continue to broadcast live, play-by-play coverage of Benson Braves and KMS Saints high school sports. They have also retained rights to continue broadcasting the Vikings and Twins, and are also looking at possibly airing Gopher, Timberwolves and Wild sports.

KBMO AM 1290 will continue its adult golden format for which it has long been known.

And, the stations will continue to broadcast Sunday church services.

The new owners are promoting KSCR/KBMO as “radio with roots,’’ and want listeners to know that local continues to come first.

They have endorsed the advice offered them by former station owner Paul Estenson, who oversaw the station for the past 20 years.

“I think what will make radio successful is as long as you focus on local, I think you will be OK,’’ said Estenson. He adds that he is among those taking a liking to the new format.

Klinghagen and Jennings were college roommates while attending what was then Southwest State University in Marshall. Klinghagen, a native of Hutchinson, majored in music business and returned to his hometown to begin his career.

Jennings, a native of Truman and Glencoe, majored in hotel and restaurant administration. Marriage and a family, and the hours required in the career, led him to an over-the-road sales position in construction.

Just as the bottom was falling out of the construction industry, his old college roommate called. He wanted to know if he would join in buying The Loon radio station in Willmar. They took over in 2007 and became its licensed owners in 2009.

Willmar is a very competitive radio market, and the two said they were looking for the opportunity to expand. They reached out to Estenson to ask if he was interested in selling the KSCR/KBMO station, and the timing could not have been better.

“It worked out well,” said Jennings. “We knew about this station and that Paul (Estenson) had done a good job over the years. It was an easy choice for us.’’

It was the right choice for Estenson too. He was interested in selling, but said it was very important for him to see that the station remain locally operated.

The new owners said radio is constantly changing, and they are more than ready to stay in front of the technology and trends shaping the industry. But they also appreciate the importance of remaining firmly rooted in all things local.

Jennings said they have taken to heart advice given them long ago: “If you’re live and local, listeners take ownership. They feel that is it is their station. That is what we want them to feel,’’ he said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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